One hundred and fifty years ago this month, the city of Corpus Christi welcomed the first three Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. The third Incarnate Word foundation in Texas, these Sisters represented the width and depth of the Incarnate Word Order. Mother Ignatius McKeown came from Brownsville—“the cradle of the Order in the New World.” From Victoria—the first daughter of Brownsville—came Sister Mary of the Cross Murray. Sister Mary Stanislaus arrived from Lyons, France—the home of the first Sisters sent across the Atlantic Ocean.
Unlike today’s realities, the Sisters were able to open their first school quickly. Having arrived on March 2, 1871, they welcomed their first pupils on March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph. There is no doubt that they chose this date carefully. Mother de Matel held a special devotion for the man who was chosen to be the protector of the Incarnate Word and His mother. Long before he was named Patron of the Universal Church, our Foundress recognized the connection between St. Joseph’s first vocation and his relationship to the Order entrusted to extend the blessing of the Incarnation throughout the world.
The story of presence and service of the Incarnate Word Sisters of Corpus Christi is a story of blessings. During the sesquicentennial year, we will trace the care surrounding them and their efforts to fulfill their call “to adore the Incarnate Word and to evangelize by proclaiming the mystery of the Incarnation.” (Constitution, #1)
Born in Roanne, France, in 1596, Jeanne Chezard de Matel was called by God to be a foundress, mystic, author, teacher, spiritual director and theologian—at a time when women were not highly recognized in any of these roles. In love with the Incarnate Word, she passionately pursued the desire of her life, to “extend the mystery of the Incarnation,” by founding the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in 1625. She understood her vocation and the vocation of the Order’s members to be both contemplative and apostolic—a call to encounter the loving Word of God incarnate in Jesus, and then to enflesh that Word in ministry. Jeanne’s life was filled with struggle, opposition, periods of darkness and much suffering. But it was out of these ingredients of her human life fortified by the joy she experienced in her relationship with the Incarnate Word that God formed and shaped the woman that Jeanne became.